Beer and cheese pairing
Pairing Wine & Beer with CheeseMatching Flavours, Aromas & Textures
A customer is planning a party and wants to know what cheese should be served along with some of their favourite wines and beers. There are hundreds of types of cheeses, and by arranging them into a few categories, pairing becomes a simpler process.
Providing this value-added service will keep customers coming back to your store for other advice.
First Things First: The Cheese
When you’re planning a tasting in your store serving two or three different cheeses per pairing session is plenty, as each one will be distinct, and pairing a range of different beers and wines with a few cheeses will bring out the different characters in each. Have separate knives to cut or serve each cheese−mixing the Chèvre with the Muenster will muddle the flavours.
Just like wine and craft beer, cheeses’ flavours are muted at refrigerator temperature. Cheese should come out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Make sure the area where the pairing is being held isn’t too warm, so that firm cheeses don’t start to sweat and soft cheeses don’t run off the plate.
Sweet and salty are natural counterpoints: Perceptibly salty cheeses like Feta, Blue, or Asiago will highlight the sweetness in your beverage. An off-dry white or a beer with a sweet or malty finish will show very well with these.
Consider texture: A lusciously creamy Camembert folds straight into a softly buttery Chardonnay, but pairing it with an effervescent, crisp German wheat beer will counterpoint and highlight that creaminess.
Match intensity of flavour: Just as you wouldn’t pair a light Italian Pinot Grigio with aged Stilton, you’d want to avoid Mascarpone and oak-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout. Keeping each side of the match within the same level enhances them both.
Red or White Wine?
Most consumers automatically think of red wine as the perfect match for any cheese. In reality, bold or full-bodied reds will bind to all of the protein and fat in a light cheese, overwhelming it, and leaving a dusty or even metallic aftertaste. For all but the richest cheeses, suggest that your customers stick with a low-tannin soft red like Beaujolais. Whites are generally more versatile with cheese.
With caramelized and roasty flavours, along with varying levels of bitterness and carbonation, beers match with a wide range of foods.
What Style of Beer?
Serious pairing of food and beer is still relatively novel here. North Americans usually regard beer as a beverage consumed alone, or with straightforward foods like barbeque or burgers. With caramelized and roasty flavours, along with varying levels of bitterness and carbonation, beers match with a wide range of foods. There’s also the added bonus that beer is usually lower in alcohol, so drinkers can enjoy a bit more without becoming intoxicated.
For customers already familiar with the flavours of wine you can help their pairing choices by relating the styles of beer to wine varietals.
Pilsner/Lager – Crisp dry whites like Riesling
Pale Ale – Chardonnay or lighter Pinot Noir
India Pale Ale – Full-bodied, intense red or heavy, oaked Chardonnay
Wheat beer – Sparkling wine or very dry whites
Belgian Ale – Complex, fruit-forward wines
Porters, Stout, Barleywine– Blockbuster reds like California Cab, Amarone or LBV Port
To simplify pairing choices, it helps to divide cheese into four broad styles, each with a distinct character that matches with specific styles of beer and wine.
Fresh and light – cheeses that have not been aged, or are only lightly cured. These are mild and creamy, and have a high moisture content and soft texture. Think Chèvre, Mascarpone, and Feta.
Aged/Firm – ranging from mild to sharp/pungent with a body that ranges from firm at room temperature to hard-grating cheeses. Think sharp Cheddar, aged Gouda, Parmigiano-Reggiano, or anything described as ‘nutty’.
Creamy and/or funky – cheeses with a rind that covers a creamy interior that ranges from mellow to eye-wateringly ripe, and usually runny at room temperature. Think triple-creme Brie, Cambozola, and Epoisses.
Blue – these cheeses have blue/green veins, from penicillium mold, which is added during the cheese-making process, giving them a distinct flavour ranging from mild to assertive. Think Danish Blue, Stilton, and Gorgonzola.
The zesty acidity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a great match for Chèvre.
Fresh and Light
Fresh cheeses are typically delicate, but many have a subtle tartness. Remember to match the intensity of the beer or wine to the cheese.
For Feta or Chèvre serving a German-style Wheat beer or a Belgian Wit will not only balance the cheese with crisp tartness, but the subtle spiciness of these beers is very inviting, and the crisp carbonation cleanses the palate. Less tart cheeses like Ricotta or Mascarpone work well with fruit beers, especially raspberry or cherry-based Belgians.
The zesty acidity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a great match for Chèvre, and Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine has a roundness that belies its delicacy. You can also suggest Italian Pinot Grigio or similar delicate whites. Soft but mellow cheeses like Mozzarella or Burrata show well against slightly more forceful whites like Gruner Veltliner or Albariño, or a dry Provençal rosé, or even a lightly chilled (58°F/15°C) Beaujolais.
It’s important to distinguish between aged-style and aged: Cheddar is technically an aged cheese, but the generic store brand is only months old and won’t have the intensity of a 7-year-old English Cheddar. For semi-hard or medium-aged cheese like Emmenthal, Gruyère, Jarlsberg, young Cheddar, or Manchego, the graininess and malt of a Pilsner, or the roasty malt and subtle caramel of a Brown or Amber Ale enhance the nutty tones and savouriness of these cheeses.
Medium-bodied whites and fruity reds will balance these cheeses with balanced acidity and moderate tannin. Pinot Blanc, Viognier, off-dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, along with French Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, or Barbera are excellent choices.
Well-aged cheeses like Cheshire, aged Gruyère, Gouda, Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano need the bitterness of hops and some residual sweetness to tame their nuttiness, umami and saltiness. IPA and Imperial or Double IPA, along with sweet Stout, or specialty beers like Belgian Trippel will stand up to these cheeses.
Similarly, very full-bodied whites, tannic reds or sweet wines can also tame these cheeses. Barolo, Zinfandel, sweet Riesling, Tawny Port, White Burgundy, and California Cabernet will each show off different cheese characters.
Whether mellow or ripe, runny cheeses show better with more subdued aromas and flavours to complement rather than compete with them. Brie, Camembert, Époisses, or Taleggio all work with Amber Lagers or Brown Ale as well as British Mild or Bitter.
Depending on how salty the cheese is, off-dry Riesling or Gewürztraminer or even a lighter Sauternes or Barsac will hold its own, as will a regional red Burgundy or cool-climate Pinot Noir.
Traditionally paired with LBV or vintage Port, these cheeses need muscularity, alcohol, and intense flavours to match their salty/savoury body and sometimes impressive funk. Double IPA, aged Barleywine and Russian Imperial Stout will all handle Blue Cheese with ease, along with the added bonus that they go well with nuts, the other traditional accompaniment to this pairing.
Only the biggest wines really work here: Port, Oloroso Sherry, Tokaji, Sauternes, or Riesling will balance intensity and wow your customers’ palates.
A perfect match with most cheeses is sparkling wine or Champagne.
The Infallible Choice
If your customer is in a rush and there isn’t time to guide them through all of the options, a perfect match with most cheeses is sparkling wine or Champagne. Firm acidity, crispness from the bubbles, and nutty-toasty flavours cover almost all cheeses, and almost everyone loves sparkling wine.
This applies to a good, crisp Pilsner as well. Light grainy notes, a firm-but-not-sharp hop character, and an effervescent head perform just as well with nearly all cheeses as sparkling wine, and the light colour and softer finish appeals to nearly all levels of beer appreciation.
Competition for consumer dollars is as intense as ever. By having the knowledge and confidence to help your customers choose successful, interesting pairings, you’ll generate extra sales from multiple pairing choices, and cross sales of wine and beer. Be sure to follow up, either by speaking to them the next time they come in to your store, or even better, by asking permission to call or message them after their pairing session to make sure they enjoyed themselves. Be their expert, and they’ll come back to you time after time.